The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Maine Monday, part of a massive national rollout and a first small step toward ending the pandemic.
Northern Light Health officials said vaccine doses were delivered Monday to Mercy Hospital in Portland and Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. The hospital group expects to begin inoculating front-line medical workers on Wednesday.
Each of the two hospitals received 975 doses, part of an initial shipment of 12,675 doses of Pfizer vaccine to Maine this week. The initial allocation will be used to protect healthcare workers at the highest risk of exposure and residents of long-term care facilities.
The first shipment is only enough to protect a fraction of the health care workers and long-term care residents considered the highest priority. Thousands of additional doses are expected in the coming weeks, although most Mainers will likely not have access to vaccines until spring or summer.
The deliveries reached Maine as shipments are also arriving in states around the U.S. and as the virus is surging in Maine and elsewhere.
Maine reported 426 new COVID-19 cases Monday, marking the fifth time the state has seen more than 400 cases in a single day.
“We’re delighted the vaccine has arrived at Northern Light EMMC and Mercy,” said Paul Bolin, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Northern Light Health during a virtual media availability Monday. “We anticipate starting the initial vaccination clinics of staff in a phased approach so employees with the most COVID interactions will be vaccinated first.”
The hospitals have already identified categories of employees including nursing staff, housekeeping and dieticians who come in contact most frequently with COVID-19 patients, to be vaccinated first. Staff will have scheduled appointments to receive their vaccinations and will be vaccinated in groups so an entire department does not receive the vaccination at the same time and is unable to work in the event they experience side effects.
The hospitals cannot require employees to receive a vaccine that is under emergency use authorization, however it will be strongly recommended that employees get inoculated. The initial 1,950 vaccinations should be enough to cover those at both EMMC and Mercy who have the most interactions with COVID-positive patients, Bolin said.
Maine Medical Center in Portland, which is part of the MaineHealth network, is expecting 1,885 doses and hasn’t received its delivery but is expecting it early this week, a spokesman said Monday morning.
“We have been planning for weeks now and we are very ready to receive and distribute the vaccine,” said Maine Health spokesman John Porter.
MaineHealth, which operates nine hospital systems in the state, including Maine Med, said Friday that it will give its initial allotment of the vaccine to the direct care providers at its hospitals that have seen the highest number of COVID-19 patients. The system’s spokesman said that includes Maine Med, Southern Maine Health Care and Mid Coast-Parkview Health.
It also said the initial vaccinations will be directed to intensive care unit teams, emergency department caregivers, those providing care in dedicated COVID-19 inpatient units, and other critical and essential inpatient services that are not available elsewhere.
The initial Pfizer vaccine deliveries this week are going to larger hospitals with capacity to store the vaccine in ultra-cold freezers. A vaccine developed by Moderna that does not need to be kept in a deep freeze could be distributed next week and will be allocated to about 30 smaller hospitals around the state.
The initial shipments of the Pfizer vaccine will be utilized at the Northern Light hospitals equipped with the freezers needed to store the vaccine, officials said Monday. Bolin and James Jarvis, senior physician executive for Northern Light, said they expect “a fairly steady shipment” of vaccines, both from Pfizer and Moderna, through December and will be working to ensure the vaccines are distributed equitably.
This story will be updated.